——— As we approach the halfway mark in the Houston government’s first term, the Premier’s honeymoon period appears to be coming to an end. The Premier’s polling numbers have put him in the middle of the pack among premiers, but with his party’s fortunes still looking strong, their spending continues. Nova Scotia’s $14.4B budget is heavily focused on the Premier’s key election promise: fixing healthcare. The cost? A relatively small deficit of $279 million thanks to the fed and rising tax revenues.
Titled “More Healthcare. Faster,” Budget 2023 proposes $6.5B in health expenditures, chewing up over 45% of the entire budget. The Premier’s eggs are fully in the healthcare basket, and with more than 137,000 Nova Scotians waiting for a family doctor—almost double the amount since he was elected in 2021—, the high price tag is a welcome relief to many, especially those who were fearing a shift towards private or two-tiered healthcare. But not everyone is happy as the budget’s title proves a little too literal for some. Across the isthmus, surprise retention bonuses for N.S. nurses are feeling too fast for a furious New Brunswick government that claims it received no notice of the initiative. With the race to the top intensifying across the Atlantic, trouble is brewing on the horizon for future interprovincial healthcare coordination.
While the Progressive Conservatives celebrate their record spending on healthcare, not all Nova Scotians are feeling the boost. Opposition leaders Zach Churchill and Claudia Chender have presented a unified front in their criticism of the budget’s limited affordability measures. Despite childcare, homelessness, and disability programs all receiving top ups, a second year of freezes to the income assistance program will be hard felt by the province’s most vulnerable demographics. Expect a continued chill on consumer spending and a growing sense of urgency around the rising costs of homes, rental units, and essential goods, which continue to buck or beat national trends.
Paving the way for increased infrastructure spending, Budget 2023 commits $498.5 million to the upkeep and development of Nova Scotia’s roads, highways, and bridges, including $75 million for local and gravel roads and an additional $14 million for the maintenance and repair of rural roads. In a clear nod to the Progressive Conservatives’ strong rural voter base, Minister of Finance (and rural member of the Legislative Assembly) Allan MacMaster noted that he was “clap[ping] for the people back home in Inverness” as he announced the investments in his budget address. It’s not as if he had much of a choice. The government has been scrambling for the past year to meet the infrastructure needs of a province with a booming population of one million and counting.
Budget 2023 is anything but conservative, a fact that the Houston government proudly owns. The Premier is counting on his government’s multibillion-dollar investments to address Nova Scotia's most pressing challenges and solidify his political future, which, for better or worse, he’s hitched firmly to healthcare. And it makes sense. To go like hell on healthcare, you have to spend like hell too.
——— Adam Langer is a former Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations
——— Emily Truesdale is a former Associate at NATIONAL Public Relations